Remembering Queen Anne’s small neighborhood grocery stores

Part One in a Series

In the first decade of the twentieth century, small neighborhood food stores — groceries, butcher stores, bakeries, and candy stores — began to appear along the busiest streets of Queen Anne. These small family businesses opened along streets where Seattle’s electric streetcars ran. Some of these streets were paved; others were dirt or wood planked.

By 1910, when the population of Seattle was approximately 240,000, there were four electric streetcar lines operating along the streets of Queen Anne, all owned by the Seattle Electric Company, a subsidiary of the Stone & Webster utility cartel. Only the wealthy could afford horse-drawn carriages, and automobiles were a novelty, so most travel around Seattle was by electric streetcar. Polk’s 1910 “Seattle City Directory” boasted:

“The city street railway system is one of the best in the United States. It covers the city and its suburbs with a network of lines aggregating about 215.5 miles in length … During the first four months of 1910, the average number of passengers carried daily on the lines of the Seattle Electric Company alone was 278,000, as compared with 265,000 for the same period in 1909, while during 1900 the average number carried daily was 38,000.” 

Four streetcar routes serving Queen Anne described in the 1910 Polk’s were:

East Queen Anne: This route originated at Second Avenue South and Main Street, and traveled along Second Avenue to Denny Way. It then turned north to Roy Street, east on Roy to Third Avenue North, north to Aloha Street, east to Taylor Avenue, and north to Boston Street. From there, it turned south to Blaine Street, east to Second Avenue North, then south to Galer Street, its terminus. From here, you could connect either to the West Queen Anne line or the North Queen Anne/McGraw line.

Kinnear Park: This route began at First Avenue South and Jackson Street, traveled along First Avenue South and 1st Avenue to Denny Way, and eventually along Olympic Place and Olympic Way, turning onto 10th Avenue West and ending at its terminus at 10th Avenue West and West Crockett Street.

North Queen Anne: This route originated at Second Avenue South and Jackson Streets, traveled through Pioneer Square and along Second Avenue to Cedar Street, then northeast to Fifth Avenue North, north to Aloha Street, east to Taylor Avenue, north to East Queen Anne Drive, northwest to Fifth Avenue North, north Boston Street, west to Queen Anne Avenue, north to West McGraw Street, west to Seventh Avenue West, and north to West Ray, its terminus. 

West Queen Anne: This route began at First Avenue South and King Street and traveled north and northwest along First Avenue to the intersection with Denny Way and First Avenue North. It then headed north along First Avenue North to Harrison Street, west to Queen Anne Avenue, north to West Galer Street, west to Sixth Avenue West, north to West Crockett Street, west to Seventh Avenue West, and north to West McGraw Street, its terminus. 

Commerce flourished along these routes, not just on Queen Anne, but wherever the streetcars ran in the developing city. The streetcars, together with the foot traffic they generated, brought a steady flow of customers. “These early lines established much of Seattle’s urban fabric, promoting new neighborhoods and business districts …”

The small food stores that grew up along these lines were generally individually or family owned and operated. There were at least 29 grocery stores on Queen Anne listed in Polk’s 1911 City Directory. In some cases, ownership changed frequently. For example, from 1909 through 1928, a very small space at 615 Queen Anne Avenue (today the location of Nobu’s Boutique Sewing and Alterations) was occupied by the following seven successive proprietors: in 1909, Mrs. J.E. De Musiel, confectionary and fruit store; 1913 through 1916, the Kavanaugh Brothers, grocery store; 1917, Matthew Randish, grocery store; 1918, the Peek-Cosper Company, grocery store; 1919, William Peek, individually, grocery store; 1922 through 1925, Randish & Hulme, grocery store; and 1926 through 1928, J.H. Hulme and Alleys Nestor, jointly, grocery and meat store.

Other stores were around much longer. One was the grocery store owned by Ludwig Rudd. In 1907 he opened his store at 1835 Queen Anne Avenue, where a branch of Home Street Bank now stands, and his store remained in business until 1940. 

Another long-standing store was the Queen Anne branch of Augustine & Kyer, an upscale grocery that advertised as the City’s “Pure Food Purveyor”. It opened its grand headquarters in the Coleman Building downtown in 1907, and in 1908 opened its first branch store at 1507 Queen Anne Avenue, where Betty’s Restaurant now stands.  Eventually, Augustine & Kyer had five branch stores in addition to its flagship store in the Coleman Building. The Queen Anne location remained in business until 1938, when during the Great Depression it was taken over by its wholesale distributor.  

What was grocery shopping like in these small stores? Generally, there was no self-service. You went to the counter with an order or a list, and the clerk retrieved the items from the shelves and brought them to you. Goods were stacked high along the walls, and the grocer used a ladder or pole to retrieve them. The grocers knew their customers by name and often extended credit.

Alternatively, you phoned in your order to the store or had a standing weekly order. Late in the day, an employee of the proprietor would deliver the goods to your doorstep by wagon, truck, or other vehicle at no extra charge. The Laurel Market was known for its delivery cycle. 

Unless the store had the word “cash” in its name (for example, De Bruler’s Cash Grocery located at 600 West Crockett from approximately 1918 through 1925), the store extended credit to its customers, billing them periodically. Banking was not the sophisticated electronic business that it is today. Customers often paid their bills in person in cash. 

For many years, meat stores were separate from grocery stores because adequate electric refrigeration was not yet commonly available. Meat stores relied on ice which was delivered by the ice wagon or truck, often followed by children begging for “a little piece of ice.”

In addition to the small neighborhood stores, farmers from outlying areas sold fresh greens, eggs, and butter door-to-door to customers at their homes. Other door-to-door vendors bought produce at wholesale prices from a railroad “fresh produce car” which was parked on a sidetrack alongside the ship canal between Ross Station and the Ballard Bridge. And the Pike Place Market was a popular destination for Queen Anne shoppers, the streetcars providing convenient transportation.

In the 1930’s, the small neighborhood groceries began to disappear. Automobiles played an important role. In 1930, the Motor-In-Market opened at 500 Queen Anne Avenue. This was something new and innovative in Queen Anne food shopping. It was not a supermarket, but an assemblage at one convenient location of small, separate food stores: Fisher’s Delicatessen and Bakery; Pay N Save Food Stores, Motor-in-Fish Market, and G & B Steak Shop, Inc. In the Queen Anne News, the Motor-in-Market advertised “Plenty of Parking Space and it’s Free.” The convenience of food shopping by automobile was on its way. The Motor-in-Market was located where Dick’s Drive-In is today.

The Great Depression accelerated the decline of the small neighborhood stores.  Stores that had extended credit to their customers began to fall behind on payments owed to their food distributors and wholesalers when their customers were unable to pay. For a while the stores and their suppliers held on, expecting the return of better times, but eventually the mounting debt led to store closures and foreclosures. 

Other changes in food storage and grocery retailing hastened their demise. The arrival of electric refrigeration was a factor. Stores that installed large electric refrigeration could stock meat, eggs, butter, and frozen food that required constant cooling, in addition to carrying canned foods and dry goods. With a larger array of products, these stores required a bigger footprint than the typical neighborhood grocery or meat store.  With larger stores came lower prices from volume discounts. It became more difficult for the small family grocer to compete on price. (The S&M Market was an exception. Its proprietor, Morris Mezistrano, was often able to undercut chain store prices by buying seconds and buying directly from producers.) And in larger stores, self-service became the norm, a convenience for both customers and store owners. 

Bigger stores with more employees could remain open late into the evenings and on Sundays, something that the family-run stores found difficult or impossible to do. Moreover, as the banking business evolved, extending credit to shoppers became the role of banks offering checking accounts and credit cards, making the extension of credit by store owners a service that was no longer needed. 

The closing of Queen Anne High School was a blow to Nelson’s Quality Grocery on West Galer Street and Fourth Avenue West. M.J. Nelson and his sister Elizabeth opened the store in 1919, and later his sons Don and Fred took over the business. By the time it closed in 2001, it was the oldest continuously operating grocery on Queen Anne. Don was quoted as saying that the closing of the Queen Anne High School hurt his business more than anything; “there are hardly any kids around here anymore.”

Jerry Mezistrano, the son of Morris Mezistrano, the owner and proprietor of the S&M Market on Queen Anne Avenue, summed up the rise and fall of the small, family-run neighborhood stores this way.

At first, the stores were created by their owners, often immigrants, as means of self- employment and livelihood. However, succeeding generations often moved on to different, more lucrative employment. As time progressed, the real estate on which the stores were located became more valuable than the business conducted there. And parking for shoppers around the stores became increasingly problematic as cars became larger and the transport of choice for grocery shopping. 

Eventually, most of the small neighborhood grocery stores disappeared. Big supermarket chains — the Safeways and the Metropolitan Markets — prevailed. As a result, something of value was lost. The small family-run stores brought neighbors together and built community and friendships. Each was unique, intimate in size and scale, and staffed by friendly, caring individuals. 

JAN HADLEY is a member of the Queen Anne Historical Society board of directors. To view source material for this article, visit